As much lamenting as there is concerning the advent of the COVID-19 virus, the virulence of hate-mongering and fear-sowing, the potential for financial hardships, and afflictions such as drug addiction and suicide, Christians should be reminded that this is a season of opportunity for the people of God to receive a two-part blessing!
Today is definitely an age in which most of us are beyond our ability to negotiate life’s circumstances, whether it’s illness, joblessness, loneliness, or brokenness. While there may be a few (somewhere) where optimism for both the supposedly inherent goodness of human nature and “good old fashion Yankee ingenuity” may be running high (I am not certain that anyone knows what “Yankee ingenuity is”), there are many have already come to the realization that such hope has been misplaced and are realizing that the circumstances that have driven them from the high places of self-sufficiency are forcing them to turn to the One Who alone really has the answers for which they’ve been seeking.
A “desperate” situation is frequently the spiritual crowbar that God uses to pry us out of the temples of self-reliance that we erect for ourselves. Ask yourself the questions, “When am I inclined to stop what I’m doing and really turn to God? What moves my heart to really reach for His throne? When does my spirit cry out to His in earnest?” Chances are good that your prayers take on a deeper and more profound quality when you’ve been shaken to your core and all the props upon which you’ve rested have been knocked out from under you.
So let us not be hasty to whine about our predicaments, but instead stop to examine our hearts and ask the questions, “How is God dealing with me through this? How is He using His Word to instruct me? What is He specifically asking of me in the midst of this trial?”
If we are sincere when we as Christians say that God has created us for intimate relationship with Himself, we should then not be surprised to find Him working out our circumstances to bring us to the point of having to choose Him over other things. Will I embrace pleasure over the joy of daily delighting in Him? Will I place power to chart my own course in life above His will for me? Will I choose to value money or other material possessions over the gift of His Son?
If we were honest, we would probably have to admit that we do those very things. And since we have allowed such things to become rivals in our affections for the God Who created us and spent His own Son’s life for us, it should not surprise us that He would permit those things to be taken away.
Can there be pleasure in pain and suffering? No, not unless it drives us to the source of a higher joy, the pleasure of which physical experience pales in comparison.
Are we quick to bow to anyone else’s authority for calling the shots with our destiny, thereby relinquishing the power and right to make our own decisions? No, not unless we see that control of our own lives is illusionary and that there is One Who not only sees into our future but has already mapped out a life of purpose and significance.
Is it easy to choose sacrifice over a life of affluence and the false sense of security that money can give to us? No, it is not, unless one is enlightened to the fact that there are riches in eternity that await those who wholeheartedly follow God that make worldly goods seem like trash.
All in all, there is a sweet victory that belongs to those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ that only begins to become evident to their eyes when the smog of worldly thinking begins to be blown away by His Spirit moving through their circumstances. Sickness, poverty, and oppression, while real enough in our temporal spheres, are only temporary after all.
“Let us press on to know the LORD; His going out is sure as the dawn; He will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth” (Hosea 6:3 ESV).
In addition to teaching us reliance upon the Lord, our hardships and woes are also the arenas in which the glory of God can be seen.
For example, Christians are commanded to love one another. In fact, this is how Jesus said that they would be identifiable to the world as His followers.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35 ESV).
Please pay attention to this: Christians supporting and generously helping each other bear testimony to the abiding presence of the Lord in their midst. Therefore, loving others in the midst of our own suffering tell the story that the God we say we worship is really active in the world.
Also, God’s people bring glory to God by upholding His Word. Naturally, defending it as His Word to a world that is hostile to truth is part of this. But inherent in the upholding of His Word is the child of God’s love for reading it, learning it, and applying it in his or her daily living. When the Bible is taken into the heart of a man or woman, he or she is changed and the change is apparent to those around him or her. Their values are revolutionized, their character is transformed, their homes are impacted, and their work is influenced. If we see Christians whose lives make very little difference around them, we are seeing Christians who aren’t taking the Word of God very seriously, evidently not feeling the need to do so.
But many people turn to the Word when times begin to get tough. They’ve begun to realize that they need a wisdom greater than their own to navigate life’s tough choices. They thirst for the comfort of assurances that science and worldly philosophies promised to supply, but couldn’t even begin to address. The fact that our painful circumstances can drive us to search out the promises of God sheds a light of hope for those around us who don’t know where to turn.
And finally, it is true that the prayers of God’s people often begin to be lifted up in earnest only if and when we feel we’ve reached the ends of our ropes. It is through prayer that our spiritual lives can be aligned with the Lord’s Spirit. Genuine prayer is the act of one who has no hope in anyone or anything BUT God and such apparent desperation gets the attention of those around him. But better yet is the fact that in our concentration upon Him in prayer, God delivers. And if what seems to be a fanatical reliance upon God through prayer will get folks’ attention, how much more will those moments when God visibly and miraculously answers those prayers?
I want to be quick to emphasize that God answers prayers in His time and in His way, but He definitely answers prayer. And if as God’s child you allow Him to instruct your mind and heart in His ways through His Word, you will see His hand move in power and in love, giving you a story to tell others about the faithfulness of God.
“Return… to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity!… Say to him, ‘Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay… the vows of our lips. Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the LORD are right, and the upright walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them” (Hosea 14:1, 2b, 9 ESV).
While there is indeed much that is challenging and even troubling about today, there are indeed pearls of great value hidden within our circumstances. Let us not overlook them and miss the treasure that can be ours!
Thom Mollohan and his family have ministered in southern Ohio the past 24 ½ years, is the author of Led by Grace, The Fairy Tale Parables, Crimson Harvest, and A Heart at Home with God. He blogs at “unfurledsails.wordpress.com.” Pastor Thom leads Pathway Community Church and may be reached for comments or questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.